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— Bill Richmond, with additional reporting by Larry Carroll

Ten years ago today — on September 13, 1996 — hip-hop lost one of its most prolific, inspired and influential voices: Tupac Shakur. It's incredible to imagine how much he achieved in such a short time, which is why the long, involved interview here is such a treasure. It was rare that Pac stood still for long enough to get as in-depth as he did in this 1992 conversation, and when he did, you just wanted to stop and soak it all in. In celebration of Tupac's life, we're rolling out this rarely-aired interview. Enjoy.

[Please note: The interviewer's questions have been paraphrased because they could not be heard clearly on the tape.]

MTV: What's your best Christmas memory?

Tupac Shakur: Well, [one year] I thought we didn't get any gifts for Christmas. I was in Baltimore. We didn't get nothing. There was a knock on my door, and my sister's principal from her school came and had like this charity where they give the turkey to the poor family on the block. We was the poor family. So we got this turkey, I got some cheap boots, we got little cheap trinkets, but on Christmas you want as many trinkets as possible. And so I got a whole bunch of little tiny things. It was cool. We got free cheese, free beans, free butter, free everything — all that little government surplus stuff. ... I just remember when [Christmas] first came, you know, and there's always like a Christmas carol playing around Christmastime on somebody's TV. And I just remember that first feeling, really feeling like, you know, "Dang, this is Christmas." And this is the give, give thing.

MTV: What was Christmas like for you as a child?

Shakur: Man, that's when I used to feel sorriest for my mother, because there was no man there. This was a woman, my mother, who had to make it merry. And there was nothing there. There wasn't even regular dinner, let alone a Christmas dinner. It's so hard to sell that "All we need is each other" speech, especially when your stomach hurts. All we needed was each other and some meat. [He laughs.] But I thought it was so beautiful how she would just be strong and do it, and would never use that time to go, "Your fathers are jerks; they left us here." But they really did; her husbands really did leave her. Our fathers — my father and my sister's father, different fathers — they really did leave us. And you know, they didn't call on Christmas to explain why we didn't get no gifts. They just were with women wherever they were, being big shots, being Santa Claus to someone else's kids. No love taken from my father, God rest his soul, but he'd better not have bought them anything big on Christmas.

MTV: Describe two things: an ideal Christmas and Christmas in the inner city.

Shakur: Christmas to me is as many people as possible happy. So I'm not saying ... peace on the earth and all of that. I'm talking about just like, you know, a house full of my homies, friends, youngsters, old people, OGs, everybody just having fun, just getting your drink on. Everybody is just celebrating, reminiscing, remembering the dead, the people in jail. That's the greatest, that's Christmas. That's what makes it real. Christmas in the inner city? The reality of it is ... I found out my father was dead on Christmas. That was like my present from my cousin. He was like, "Your pops is dead." So that's more reality, you know? That sh-- happens. Death don't wait for nobody. He don't care it's Christmas. "Happy Christmas, but, um, your pops is dead." That's the reality of it.

MTV: What kind of Christmas will this generation have?

Shakur: I think that the MTV generation, in terms of where we are today, has the best imaginable Christmas values. At least we're open-minded, at least we care enough to see the problems and want to have a good Christmas. At least we know there are people who are not having a good Christmas, and it's not just this happy, jolly, white Christmas everywhere. We're saying, "Wait, wait, wait — do they know it's Christmas over there?" I think the MTV generation is the next generation to come and the best generation that we've had thus far. They're starting to see the mistakes; they're starting to try to check it. ... That's not self-serving, that's real.

MTV: How does this record you are doing now reflect the reality of the times today?

 "I wanted to do something that would affect people, not today but tomorrow..."

Shakur: The track I am doing for the album is called "Ghetto Gospel." I love the whole concept. I bought the first [Special Olympics album, A Very Special Christmas,] when it had Sting on it with "Gabriel's Message." ... I bought it for Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," no joke. But I heard "Gabriel's Message" by accident and I was so stuck on it. I was like, "That is def! That is everything!" And this is way back — I'm a little youngster. So now when the chance come for me to do it, I wanted to do something that would affect people, not today but tomorrow, whenever you played it — a year from now. And I didn't want it to be just, you know, "Snow and chestnuts rolling down." I didn't want to do a remake. I wanted to do a Christmas carol, and black people really never did Christmas carols. ...

Not our own. ... "Ghetto Gospel" is a reality. It's a reminiscent-type song. Losing your grandparents, how we don't really care about our senior citizens these days. And that's such a Christmas-y thing, 'cause you know your grandma will always give you a present. If she [has to] give you her teeth, she's going to give you a present. "Ghetto Gospel" is like being gospel without being sellout, you know, not being phony. I'm not saying I've changed. I make a lot of mistakes and I say that in the song. But it says "God ain't finished with me yet." [There's] a path for me, and I make mistakes and I might fall, but I'm gonna get up and I keep trying 'cause I believe in it. And that's ghetto, you know, to do what you feel. It's not all pretty, but it's still what I feel. It's still from my soul, my heart. So it's ghetto gospel.

MTV: "Everybody needs a little help relying on yourself." Tell me about that line from the song.

 "You wanna be successful? You wanna be like Trump?"

Shakur: This world is — and when I say "this world" I mean it, I don't mean it in an ideal sense. I mean it in every day, every little thing you do — it's such a "Gimme, gimme, gimme." Everybody back off. Everybody's taught that from school. Everywhere. Big business: You wanna be successful? You wanna be like Trump? Gimme, gimme, gimme. Push, push, push, push. Step, step, step. Crush, crush, crush. That's how it all is. And it's like nobody ever stops, you know? I feel like instead of us just being like, "Slavery's bad. Bad whitey," I mean, let's stop that. Everybody's smart enough to know that. We've been slighted and we want ours. And I don't mean by "ours," like 40 acres and a mule, because we're past that. But we need help. I mean for us to be on our own two feet, "us" meaning youth or "us" meaning black people, whatever you want to take it for. For us to be on our own two feet, we do need help because we have been here. We have been a good friend, if you want to make it a relationship type of thing. We have been there, and now we deserve our payback. It's like you got a friend that you don't never look out for you. You know, you dressed up in jewels now — America's got jewels and they got paid and everything, and they lend their money to everybody except us. Everybody needs a little help on their way to being self-reliant.

That's the whole thing about the album, about the Special Olympics. Everybody needs a little something, and they need to be independent. No independent person just grew up and was born independent. You worked and you learned teamwork, and you learned cooperation and unity and struggle, and then you became independent. And we have to teach that and instill that. ... I mean, if this is truly a melting pot in the country where we care about them ... we really need to be like that. ... You need to help black kids, Mexican kids, Korean kids, whatever. But it needs to be real and it needs to be before we all die and then you say, "I made a mistake. I should have gave them some money. We really should have helped these folks." It's gonna be too late. And then that's when you've gotta pay your own karma. And that's what God punishes when God punishes you.

I feel like there's too much money here. Nobody should be hitting the Lotto for $36 million when we got people starving in the streets. That is not idealistic. That's just real. That is just stupid. There is no way Michael Jackson ... or whoever ... should have a million thousand quadruple billion dollars and then there's people starving. There's no way. There's no way that these people should own planes and these [other] people don't have houses, apartments, shacks, drawers, pants.


NEXT: 'You need to check yourself and see how racist you are. I even do it myself.' ...
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